Lesson 1 of 7  - free your true Self to guide you

devil / angel split

Perspective on Your
False Selves

Who's Really Running Your Life?

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/gwc/false_self.htm 

  Updated  02-01-2015

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One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between two "wolves" inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, worry, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, humor, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.

The grandson thought for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

      This brief YouTube video previews what you'll find in this article: The intro mentions eight self-improvement lessons in this site. I've reduced that to seven.

      This is one of a series of articles on Lesson 1 in this nonprofit Web site - (a) free your true Self to guide you in calm and conflictual times, and (b) reduce significant psychological wounds. This article describes the primary wound - being controlled by "false selves." This may cause up to five additional wounds.

      This article assumes you're familiar with...

What is a "False Self"?

      "False self" means two or more personality subselves that activate from some life event, and take over leadership from the wise part of our brain called (here) our true Self (capital "S"). When that happens, your thoughts, perceptions, and feelings are what those excited subselves feel, not what your Self perceives or feels.  It's likely that the "demons" and "evil spirits or gods" described in many cultures across the centuries refer to harmful false selves.
      When you're controlled by a false self, your naturally-talented Self is disabled - i.e. s/he is blocked from making instinctively wise, short and long-term decisions. The short-sighted, comfort-seeking subselves who have taken over (the false self) usually make less wise and healthy decisions, like rookies trying to run a professional team.

      A typical false self will cause the composite feelings, beliefs, perceptions, and thoughts of one or more Inner Kids plus any Guardian subselves  that are devoted to each of them ("My Critic, my Food-addict, my Perfectionist, and my Catastrophizer are all trying to control me now - Help!") 

      Before personal wound-recovery progress, many Inner Kids and Guardians don't know the Self is available to lead; or they do know, but don't trust the Self's judgment and competence. That's often because against all logic, they're living in the (traumatic) past.

      When we're young, our true Self hasn't learned much about the world, so other subselves have no reason to trust its wisdom and judgment. They must rely on each other and the subselves who control our caregivers. So one aspect of "maturing" is having our diligent subselves realize that the resident true Self has gained much knowledge and wisdom, and now is an effective leader in all situations.   

      Doing effective inner-family therapy can accelerate this acceptance and trust over time, and harmonize all subselves to (usually) follow the Self's wise lead. As this happens, people increasingly describe feeling a mix of these emotions in calm and stressful situations

      My experience is that most adults would not describe their lives with words like these. Reflect on the past several weeks or months of your life. What adjectives would best describe them? How about stressed, rushed, distracted, hassled, unfocused, anxious, guilty, confused, superficial, frustrated, angry, numb, depressed, apathetic, empty, and/or insecure?.

      The more of these that fit, the more likely that your thoughts, perceptions, and actions have often been controlled by one or more well-meaning false selves.

      To help prepare and motivate you and others to do Lesson 1 (psychological-wound assessment and reduction), here's some perspective on "living from a false self." I write this after 23 years of doing inner-family therapy with scores of men and women trying to improve their lives and relationships by harmonizing their talented team of subselves.

      I also write from personal experience as a recovering Grown Wounded Child (GWC). Prior to breaking life-long denials in 1986, my life was mostly controlled by my false selves - and I was completely unaware of that and what it meant. That has changed dramatically since I began personal wound-reduction ("recovery").

The Master Wound: Being Controlled by "False-selves"

      Women and men who survive a low-nurturance childhood and are ruled by protective false selves often know no other way of life. To most of us GWCs, false-self dominance is normal. To imagine life feeling like these true-Self traits seems like science fiction, unattainable in real life. (Do you agree?)

      Living from false selves probably does not mean you have a "multiple personality." A common nervous reaction when "your inner family of subselves" is proposed is to associate it with the dramatic stories of "Sibyl," "The Three Faces of Eve," or "When Rabbit Howls."

      Social psychologists estimate that about 5% of our population are extremely dis-integrated (split) people with what psychiatrists now call "Dissociative Identity Disorder" (DID). Such people have very distinct symptoms. The great majority of us have moderately-split personalities and fall far short of having DID.

      Can kids be controlled by false selves? Absolutely. If a young child's main caregivers, role models, mentors, and companions are not consistently directed by their true Selves then the child is probably governed by other protective subselves much or all the time.

      This is likely because the child's Self (capital "S") has not had much life experience to strengthen her or his wisdom. From this perspective, "growing up" really  means "gradually shifting your subselves' trust from adults' ruling subselves to your own true Self."

      To begin to assess whether you are often controlled by tireless, protective false selves, explore and study this, and then return here. To fully assess yourself for psychological wounds, follow the suggestions here after you finish this. The more GWC traits that someone has, the more likely their Self (capital "S") is often disabled, and personal wound-reduction is merited.

      These GWC symptoms are so widespread that they're accepted as normal. True-Self symptoms are uncommon. Note that if false selves control you now, they will probably distort your self-evaluation (e.g. minimize ,intellectualize, deny) of these clues. Do you feel like your Self is guiding your personality (other subselves) now?

      If you feel your true Self reviewed these symptoms and you have "too many" of them, then learn more about wound-healing options. after reading this

      If you feel a child or other adult has too many of these symptoms, follow the links. For a full exploration of psychological wounding and recovery, read the Lesson-1 guidebook "Who's Really Running Your Life?" (4th ed.; Xlibris.com, 2011) and related titles. The prior editions contain cross-reference and other errors.

      Self-improvement Lesson 1 aims to help troubled adults assess for significant false-self dominance and wounds in themselves and other important adults and kids. Where there are significant signs of these wounds, Lesson 1 provides an experience-based framework for helping each other evolve and work an effective personal recovery plan - "parts work," or inner-family therapy. That aims to harmonize your team of subselves under the expert leadership of your true Self and Higher Power over time.

      Options: invest some time reflecting and/or journaling about your reactions to what you just read. Learn the set of true-Self traits, and try imagining them describing most days of your life. Core question: are you or someone you care about often dominated by false selves (wounded)? If so, what does that mean?

      If you're skeptical about personality subselves, read my letter to you, and then try this safe, interesting exercise after you finish here. Note that almost 80%  of site visitors who answer this anonymous poll say they believe in subselves "without question."

For more perspective, read this research summary on "bad habits." For options on freeing your true Self, see this after you finish here.


      This article describes an epidemic, inherited psychological wound that seem to come from early-childhood abandonment, neglect, and abuse ("trauma"). The wound is "personality fragmenting and false-self dominance," This lethal condition promotes excessive shame, guilts, fears, reality distortions, and trust imbalances. People with all of these may inherit another wound - difficulty feeling, empathizing, loving, and bonding with some or all other people.

      The article provides links to common symptoms of false-self dominance and what that can mean. It also refers you to articles on wound reduction ("recovery"). 

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else?''

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